Reviewed by Lisa Blohm, PhD, MSN, RN
In desperation, you may have searched high and low for immediate heartburn relief after eating an especially spicy meal or running through that buffet line for the third time — against your better judgment. Most of us have experienced that uncomfortable burning sensation in our chest at one time or another. The problem is many of us are still trying to figure out how to get rid of heartburn quickly to minimize our suffering.
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In the quest to find immediate heartburn relief, it’s helpful to understand what heartburn is.
The unpleasant feeling brought on by heartburn is quite common. In the United States alone, an estimated 60 million people experience heartburn at least monthly, while a quarter of this group does so daily.
Medical experts describe heartburn as a burning feeling in the chest that can move up towards your neck and throat. This uncomfortable feeling can last as short as a few minutes or as long as a few hours. Depending on the severity, heartburn can be quite an annoying and sometimes painful ordeal.
For some, heartburn can also cause a burning feeling in the throat and possibly an acidic, sour taste towards the back of their mouth. This taste is from the stomach acid traveling upward through the esophagus, which is the tube from the throat that delivers food to the stomach.
Many people have experienced this burning feeling in their chests. However, plenty of them may not realize what is happening within their bodies that is causing this feeling. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, GERD, and indigestion.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid travels up the esophagus. A valve between the esophagus and stomach (lower esophageal sphincter) normally closes after food has entered the stomach but when this valve doesn’t close properly, stomach acid escapes. This escaped acid causes a burning sensation in the chest — what we know as heartburn.
Our stomachs can hold this acid without experiencing a burning feeling. After all, this acid helps break down our food. On the other hand, our esophagus and throat are not made to come in contact with this acid regularly. That’s why we notice the burning pain as the stomach acid travels upward!
If acid reflux occurs more frequently or for a more extended period, doctors may diagnose it as GERD, Gastroesophageal reflux disease. GERD needs to be diagnosed and treated by a medical doctor. If the symptoms are ignored, it can lead to a variety of complications.
Indigestion, sometimes referred to as an upset stomach, is an uncomfortable feeling in the chest and upper abdomen. When people suffer from indigestion, they could feel nauseous, bloated, and have a general sense of feeling too full. Indigestion can occur when stomach acid irritates the esophagus, causing the lining to become increasingly sensitive.
As you can see, heartburn can be just one of several symptoms of digestive issues.
What causes that irritating and sometimes painful burning we’ve come to know as heartburn?
What we eat can determine whether we experience heartburn. Foods high in fat, salt, or acidity can cause heartburn, as well as spicy fare. Examples of these include citrus fruits, tomatoes, cheese, chocolate, deep-fried foods, and caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea. Drinking alcohol can also cause heartburn. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that at least one of your favorite foods may be causing heartburn.
Even some healthy foods can also cause that burning feeling in your chest and throat. Besides citrus fruits and tomatoes, other healthy foods in this group include avocados, onions, and nuts. But don’t cut out all healthy foods from your diet!
Sometimes medications taken for other ailments can lead to heartburn as well. These medications include ibuprofen, aspirin, antibiotics, and tricyclic antidepressants. Drugs that treat osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and anxiety also can potentially cause heartburn. However, don’t discontinue your meds because you’re experiencing heartburn! Instead, talk to your doctor to see what might help relieve this side effect.
Understanding what lifestyle choices and habits promote heartburn will help us learn how to get rid of heartburn and avoid it in the future.
Lifestyle habits can also contribute to heartburn episodes. For example, those who overeat or eat late at night may find themselves experiencing heartburn. We’ve all had that feeling where we couldn’t resist taking those extra bites that gave us that overly full feeling! When we overeat our stomach stretches out, making it difficult for the valve leading to the esophagus to close.
Working late or binge-watching Netflix shows may tempt us to eat late at night. If the hour is late and you haven’t eaten in a while, grab something light because late-night eating may result in heartburn. As you lay down, you no longer have gravity helping you keep the stomach acid down as your body digests the food.
Smoking can also cause heartburn as it decreases your saliva production, increases your stomach acid levels, weakens the valve (esophageal sphincter), and causes damage to the esophagus. Saliva helps wash down the acid in the esophagus and helps neutralize it. Also, damage to the esophagus from smoking makes it more susceptible to injury from the acid.
Even the clothes you wear can increase your likelihood of having heartburn! Wearing clothes or accessories that are too tight around the abdomen puts pressure on the stomach, causing acid to move upward towards the esophagus and throat.
Similarly, overweight people tend to experience heartburn as the extra fat in the abdomen area puts pressure on the stomach, pushing the acid upwards. Studies have shown that around 35% of overweight people suffer from heartburn.
Heartburn can be more common at specific life stages.
Pregnant women are prone to get heartburn as well. Medical experts believe the hormones released during pregnancy relax smooth muscle tissues in your body, including the valve to the stomach. The hormones also slow down overall digestion, which, along with the upward pressure from the uterus, adds to the likelihood of pregnant women experiencing heartburn.
Also, as we age, our muscles tend to weaken, and that includes the esophageal sphincter. Unfortunately, unlike many other muscles in our body, no amount of exercise can strengthen this stomach valve.
You can try to prevent it from occurring, but how can you find immediate relief if you are already experiencing heartburn?
If you suffer from heartburn while trying to sleep, elevate your head six to eight inches using a wedge pillow if possible. Sleeping in this position will allow gravity to bring the acid back down towards your stomach. This position may take getting used to, but the effort will be worth it for the uninterrupted sleep you will hopefully enjoy.
Another thing to consider is the clothes you are wearing. Make sure your clothes are comfortable and unrestrictive to minimize pressure on your stomach and abdomen area. Keep this in mind when picking out your outfit for the day!
Supplements are also a natural way to fight the uncomfortable feeling of heartburn. Many extracts from natural ingredients help restore gastrointestinal health, reduce inflammation, and improve digestion, among other health benefits. These ingredients include licorice root, marshmallow root, slippery elm bark, artichoke leaf, sea buckthorn, and turmeric root, along with a host of vitamins. Overall, these supplements can reduce stomach pains and acidity, address indigestion, and of course, provide immediate relief from heartburn.
Once you’ve discovered how to get rid of heartburn, think of ways to avoid getting it again.
We can be sure that what we eat can cause us to experience heartburn. Generally, foods high in fat can bring on heartburn, but triggering foods may be different for each person. In other words, each person’s digestive system can react differently to various foods.
Some doctors may suggest heartburn sufferers keep a food diary, a log where they keep track of what they eat and drink daily. A food diary for heartburn should also include a record of activities, such as exercise and sleep.
Also, it is helpful to include other details such as times of high blood pressure or mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. These types of things could also be heartburn triggers. After a few weeks, you should share the data with your doctor so you can work together to identify ways to avoid experiencing heartburn in the future. It may seem tedious to keep up with a food diary but, in the end, having fewer heartburn episodes may make it well worth the effort.
Food diaries can help with weight management as well over the long term. Research found that keeping a food diary was an effective way to help lose weight. For those who are overweight, losing some pounds often helps to decrease episodes of heartburn.
Overall, know your limits and give your body adequate time to digest food. Don’t overeat or eat late at night. You want your body to have enough time to digest the food before you go to bed. Be kind to your stomach and digestive system!
Many find probiotic ingredients can help treat heartburn.
Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in probiotics, is often used to treat heartburn. In general, probiotics help your digestive system balance good and bad bacteria in your stomach. Not only will you find some heartburn relief over time, but it can keep your digestive system running smoothly and help boost your immune system, too!
Some view heartburn as merely an infrequent nuisance, while others may experience it more often.
Remember, frequent heartburn can cause damage to the lining of your esophagus. Other possible effects include damaged teeth, a sore throat, hoarseness, and disturbed sleep. Stomach acid has a pH of around 1 to 3, which makes it very acidic. So, the damage it can do to your esophagus, throat, or teeth is not surprising!
Additionally, damage to the lining of the esophagus can cause ulcers, esophageal bleeding, and even an increased risk of cancer. These conditions are very serious and can be difficult to treat. So, if you struggle with heartburn consistently, it is very important that you take steps to reduce your risk factors and improve your health! It can become far more than a minor inconvenience!
Here at The Healthy Place, our experts can help you find natural ways to relieve heartburn and put you on the road to a healthier digestive system. Contact us via chat, email, or give us a call. We are ready to answer your questions!